Europe was the subject that most influenced Emmanuel Macron’s voters in France’s presidential election. Naturally, this places the EU at the top of the new president’s list of priorities. EURACTIV France reports.
According to polling company BVA, the top three issues for Macron’s voters were the European Union, unemployment and social security.
In the short term, France’s new president will address the subjects of employment, security and refugees, as liberal MEP Sylvie Goulard explained to EURACTIV.fr before the election.
Looking slightly further into the future, Macron will push ahead with deeper reforms.
A eurozone budget
The most ambitious of Macron’s promises concerns the governance of the eurozone. As things stand, the unfinished architecture of the Economic and Monetary Union leaves a lot to be desired. Decisions are made behind closed doors, without the slightest degree of democratic control, providing ample ammunition and an easy target for Eurosceptics.
For Macron, reformed eurozone governance should include the creation of a real eurozone budget, capable of absorbing asymmetric shocks and avoiding imbalances that harm the whole currency zone.
But France can hardly claim leadership on such an urgent and sensitive issue until it has regained budgetary credibility with Brussels and Berlin. Germany, which is sceptical of the creation of a common fund that would see it lose out under current circumstances, would never agree to such reforms as long as Paris fails to get its books in order.
Democratic conventions in 27 countries
The En Marche leader wants to organise “conventions” across the whole of the EU, to discuss the actions and priorities the bloc should adopt. Concretely, this would be an attempt to bring grass-roots ideas into government; a method that worked for En Marche during the campaign.
It is also aimed at provoking debate between Europeans by involving people of different nationalities in spontaneous and flexible discussions. Here, there is no question of imposing a single format, as each country would organise its convention in its own way.
Brushed aside as an unrealistic display of utopianism by Macron’s critics, the idea relies on a kind of political marketing that consists of scanning society for problems and potential solutions.
A measure of the success of these conventions will be whether they attract anyone beyond the policy geeks and political science students that seem to make up the exclusive audience of the formal debates organised by the European Commission.
Rethinking representative democracy
For Macron, the European electoral system is already proportional enough. In fact, this is what has led to the presence in the European Parliament of such large numbers of politicians who could not get elected in their home countries, including Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage and Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
But a different kind of reform, the new president believes, is possible. He plans to have the 72 seats left vacant after the departure of the UK in 2019 set aside for candidates on federal, pan-European lists.
However, the other European capitals may well have different plans for these seats, such as to redistribute them or even abolish them altogether. After all, the Parliament has no less than 751 seats already.
Poland, Hungary, Russia: sanctions to defend republican vales?
Finally, as a newcomer, Macron will have to make his mark on the international scene. He may lack experience outside France but he has nonetheless spent the last six months fighting the extreme-right at home.
And he has promised to promote France’s republican values, on issues like the rule of law, to countries such as Poland, Hungary and Russia. The president-elect also referred to the possibility of invoking the “sanctions foreseen under the treaties” to deal with the behaviour of Poland and Hungary.
So far, the Commission has taken the first step of activating its rule of law safeguards in Poland. Further sanctions would have to be agreed upon unanimously by the member states.
While he has said little on the matter of Russia so far, Macron will surely not forget the systematic smear campaign led by Kremlin-sponsored media outlets Sputnik and Russia Today. En Marche ended up banning journalists from these organisations from its campaign events.
Both organisations are directly financed by Russia with the aim of spreading Moscow’s propaganda. The Kremlin, on the other hand, openly supported the more Russia-friendly candidates Marine Le Pen and François Fillon, both of whom were ready to end sanctions against Russia.